We all know someone who seems naturally smart, always making the right choices, solving problems effortlessly, and acing every task. You might even envy them a little.
But intelligence isn’t just about having a high IQ or acing exams.
In fact, some behaviors are dead giveaways that a person, no matter how book-smart, may not be genuinely intelligent.
I learned this from a close friend who used to struggle in school but now impresses everyone with her resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.
In my journey to understand what true intelligence means, I’ve pinpointed 7 things that truly intelligent people like her never do.
Curious? Keep reading to find out what sets the genuinely smart apart from those who just act like they are.
1) Assume they know everything
We’ve all encountered that person who’s eager to dominate conversations, correct others, and offer unsolicited advice, all in the name of appearing smart.
Or maybe they truly believe that they know everything there is to know about a certain topic. But you know what’s a real sign of intelligence? Humility.
I remember meeting an award-winning scientist at a networking event. You’d expect him to talk non-stop about his achievements, but instead, he was asking everyone questions and seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say.
When the topic of his research came up, he modestly said, “There’s so much we still don’t know, but we’re learning every day.”
This is something genuinely intelligent people understand. The world is a vast, ever-changing place, and no one can ever know everything about everything.
Assuming you’ve got it all figured out not only puts you at risk of looking foolish but also is a very fast way for your knowledge to become irrelevant.
If you want to be genuinely intelligent, embrace your knowledge gaps as opportunities rather than seeing them as weaknesses.
2) Act disrespectfully
You’d think that intelligence and respect go hand-in-hand, but unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. I’ve met people who are incredibly smart in their field but act disrespectfully toward others.
It’s as if they believe their intellectual abilities give them a free pass to belittle or disregard those they deem “less intelligent.”
And what that really says is that they’re the ones who lack emotional intelligence.
Because the genuinely smart people understand that everyone has something valuable to offer.
They respect different perspectives and recognize the importance of treating others with dignity, no matter their background or skill level.
This is one of the most telling signs of how you understand the world and the people in it.
3) Ignore feedback
When someone offers you advice or criticism, it’s natural for your first instinct to be getting defensive.
After all, we all want to be accepted for who we are, and to be recognized and praised.
It takes genuine intelligence in order to truly embrace feedback — not just “in one ear and out the other”, but to really listen, digest, and make changes.
This is something my friend, who I mentioned at the beginning, is really good at.
But it wasn’t always like that. She told me she used to be terrified of performance reviews at work, and felt anything from devastated to enraged at criticism she received.
She wanted so badly to be perfect that she took any suggestion extremely harshly.
Now, though, she not only welcomes feedback, she actively seeks it out, asking her colleagues and boss what she can do better and enthusiastically working on herself.
What changed? She learned to see feedback as an opportunity for growth. And that’s what lets her keep strengthening her intelligence, as successful as she is already.
4) Make impulsive decisions
Ah, the allure of instant gratification! Who hasn’t been tempted to make a hasty decision based on immediate rewards?
That’s exactly what makes you reach for another slice of cake even though you’re on a diet, or decide to scroll on Instagram when you should be studying.
It takes me back to my teenage days… but impulsive decisions aren’t just a youthful folly. They’re a sign that you might be overvaluing the present moment at the expense of the future.
Genuinely intelligent people understand the importance of delayed gratification and long-term planning. They don’t let emotions cloud their judgment, opting instead for logical, well-thought-out choices.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still decide to let go once in a while and splurge on something you love at the store, or maybe you intuitively know that a decision is right and you just go for it.
But better treat that as an exception rather than the rule, or you may end up making a lot of decisions that you’ll later regret.
5) Dismiss other people’s opinions
I’m sure you’ve been in a discussion about a topic you know you’re an expert in, and someone is adamantly sharing their opinion… which is glaringly wrong. (Or so you believe).
What do you do?
As a genuinely intelligent person, here’s what you wouldn’t do: dismiss that person right off the bat.
Because opinions are always subjective, and wisdom can come from surprising places.
Many scientists too, have only made breakthrough discoveries once they considered something that had never been considered before — even something they had been against at first.
In this case, there’s no Nobel Prize at stake, but you should still be open to hearing different perspectives.
Try to dig deeper and ask the person what led to them coming to that conclusion, and if they have any examples of what they’re talking about.
If nothing else, you’ll at least have made them feel heard, and learned a little about how “the other side” thinks — which is perhaps one of the most valuable things we can learn.
6) Neglect emotional intelligence
It’s easy to think that being smart is all about solving complex equations or understanding the ins and outs of international politics.
But let’s not forget that understanding people — our emotions, our triggers, our behaviors — is a different type of intelligence that is just as critical.
Genuinely intelligent people get this. They don’t just focus on logic and reason. They also pay close attention to the emotional atmosphere around them.
You know, I had a college professor who was brilliant, a real genius in his field. But he was so in tune with his students’ needs, always knowing when we were overwhelmed or confused.
He’d crack a joke to lighten the mood, or sometimes he’d even rearrange his teaching style to make sure everyone was keeping up.
It wasn’t just about transferring knowledge; it was about making that knowledge accessible and meaningful to all of us. And you could tell he didn’t just understand his subject matter, he understood us.
So if you want to be genuinely intelligent, don’t just open a book. Open your heart and mind to the emotions and experiences of others. That’s a lesson no textbook can teach you, but life surely will.
7) Hold grudges
We’ve all been hurt or felt slighted at some point, right? It’s part of the human experience.
And it’s also human to cling to that pain, hoping for the person to “get what’s coming for them” and spending a lot of time hating their guts. It’s understandable, and most of us have done it at least once. (Guilty as charged!)
But you know what’s genuinely intelligent? Letting go.
Because that anger is not serving you at all. On the contrary, it’s like carrying a heavy backpack everywhere you go — it slows you down and exhausts you.
You may have had no control over the pain that person caused you in the past, but the way you’re letting them hold you back today, that’s your decision.
Why would you let them continue to have this effect on you? That’s why genuinely intelligent people choose forgiveness — not because the other person deserves it, but because they deserve peace.
The path to genuine intelligence
So there you have it, folks — 7 things that genuinely intelligent people never do. But let’s not forget: intelligence isn’t set in stone; it’s a dynamic, evolving trait.
It’s a journey of constant learning, of humility, and yes: making mistakes, acknowledging them, and growing stronger through the lessons they teach us.
The genuinely intelligent people I’ve met in my life — like my resourceful friend, the award-winning scientist, and my college professor — have all shared a common understanding.
Intelligence is more than just an accumulation of facts and skills; it’s the thoughtful application of that knowledge.
It’s about using what you know to not only improve your own life but also to make a meaningful impact on the lives of those around you.
So, if you find yourself slipping into any of the behaviors we’ve discussed, remember: intelligence is a work in progress. The best way to move forward is to recognize, adjust, and continue on your path of intellectual and emotional growth.
Because the pursuit of true intelligence never really ends. It only becomes richer and more rewarding.